“Liberty without learning is always in peril and learning without liberty is always in vain.” — John F. Kennedy
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” – John Adams
“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy: or perhaps both.” – James Madison
Thanks for reading !
I write to inform readers and challenge their thinking (as I try to challenge my own), to encourage a wider circle of informed participants in the ongoing experience of the American Democracy – surely one of the most important advances of Western Civilization and human history. I think sometimes too many of us lose sight of just how unique and fragile that democracy is.
“Context matters,” as the talking heads like to say. So to help you make sense of what I have to say in my columns and the “Other Voices” I bring to your attention, you might like to know “where I’m coming from.”
Levittown, PA. That’s where I grew up, in sea of baby boomers.
My dad was a veteran and he and my mom were original Levittowners. In 1952 they purchased a $10,000 house for $100 down on a VA guaranteed loan. That’s 1% down payment. Today, that would be called a “liar’s loan.” Not then. Every adult male on our street and all over Levittown had a job. A few women worked, but generally, one working man provided for an entire family.
My dad was a steelworker, my mom a housewife who liked to read and took ferocious charge of the education of my brother and me. And got us to church every Sunday, until she could no longer and died when I was fifteen. Pete and I are still regularly in church.
Our older sister was a pioneering modern woman, who graduated high school, went to college and into the workforce at a “think tank” job in Princeton.
But while my dad was a steelworker, my great grandfather had been a steel mill owner (and an owner of the Reading, PA Phillies, Minor League baseball team) and we grew up with some advantages: spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s country club, played golf at eleven years old, went to the theatre in Philadelphia, ran around the Jersey shore in a twenty-five foot, all wood Chris Craft with a monster, twelve cylinder inboard engine and got to Eagle’s games and the World Series.
I idolized Mickey Mantle and still love baseball. My dad had been a shortstop. But I was a swimmer from day one. Then in junior high I switched to gymnastics. More challenging. But my college had no gymnastics team; only a set of parallel bars that I could not get my shoulders through – designed I thought for an ancient race of college students. So I learned to play lacrosse, but got away from team sports and played a lot of racquet ball.
My interest in the world of adult affairs – government, politics, religion – came early. I was indignant when I was once shown to the children’s’ table at some gathering of distant relatives. Boring! My grandmother, who was sympathetic, nevertheless advised me to “Mind my manners.”
But I persevered, and in 1960 shook the hands of both Kennedy and Nixon when they spoke at the Levittown Shopping Center. I figured out where their limos would stop and met them both as they got out.
At that time, tests on current affairs and world geography were a part of elementary school curriculum. In the fifth grade we studied “The Great Religions of the World.” Islam was one of them. Mrs. Stone said so.
As a high school student I marched with church people and civil rights advocates for the integration of Philadelphia’s famed Girard College. I think the speech given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall in Washington in August of 1963 is one of the finest orations ever written or delivered in the English language.
I won honors as a high school debater and sharpened those skills as a Government major at Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, PA). I got to test my republican inclinations in a heavily Democratic liberal arts college community.
My first experience of democracy in action was as treasurer and then president of my college fraternity. We had to pass an annual budget and decide how to tax each other (set dues and fees) for room and board, hire a cook and pay Social Security, provide up-keep of the fraternity house, (an introduction to the concept of “fixed costs”), support an area charity and provide the all-important party budget (“variable costs”).
Here is one other lesson that stands out. As part of one of my courses, I helped conduct a survey in Lancaster for the presidential election of 1968. Went door to door in that working class city. I was blown away to discover that the segregationist champion, George Wallace was going to carry Lancaster. And he did.
Racists? Possibly. Or just pissed off that the billions in Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” were not flowing to places like Lancaster.
This memory also stays with me. With two of my fraternity brothers, I was up all night in front of the TV until Neal Armstrong stepped out on the surface of the moon. One of the truly great accomplishments of the human spirit and the American nation.
After graduation I set off on the career I intended in government and public service. I understood that the doorway was politics, so I turned down an internship in Congress and instead returned home to Levittown: registering voters, getting elected as a local party committeeperson, running for local office and rising through the ranks in a journey of discovery through politics, government and the American democracy.
To this day, I have great respect and affection for the people who “toil in the vineyards” of our democracy: political party committee people, volunteers who “get out the vote” and the judges and inspectors of elections (as they are called in Pennsylvania) who are vital to conducting our elections.
By 1979 I had been an officer of county and state government, met and campaigned side by side with U.S. presidents, was an aide to the widely respected PA Governor Dick Thornburgh (later U.S. Attorney General) and director of the Pennsylvania Republic Party. I helped initiate an important historic preservation effort (The Friends of Bolton Mansion), and as a government officer focused on the needs of the physically disabled, energy and water conservation and rural housing rehabilitation.
I also made a course correction. I grew up and into a card carrying and – by the standards of the day – reasonably successful straight guy. But it dawned on me that this was not where my future was. So to decide the matter, I got a job as a bartender in a gay bar. Sure enough. So I played the field for a year or so, then one day Rick walked into the bar. One look and that was that. We have now been together 42 years; and every bit as in love now as then – more so, I dare say.
In 1980 I met a group of my neighbors who were concerned about a plan to divert the waters of the Delaware River and helped to organize and lead a unique and impactful environmental organization, Del-AWARE, which led efforts to protect the waters of the Delaware River and its watershed, and grew into the present day the Delaware River Keepers Network.
That campaign organized a successful voter referendum, unprecedented in Pennsylvania politics, and an election which put me on the opposite side of many Republicans leaders and officeholders I had previously supported and helped to elect.
So I punted on politics and began a career as a senior executive in the international logistics and distribution industry, working with and learning from colleagues and customers in communities throughout the United States, North America and around the world. I have traveled a lot, with Rick for the fun of it and for business. From 1986 to 2006 I logged more than 1 million miles in the air.
Along the way we found a second home in Mexico, whose people and culture we admire, respect and enjoy (Big Time!). Although I have to say, when we started a logistics company in Mexico in 1992, the learning curve of conducting business there was “straight up.”
From late 2005 through 2008 we made our home outside Cape Town, South Africa. One of twelve homes in three countries over the past thirty years. Another great learning experience!
Returning from South Africa as the Wall Street Crash of 2008-2009 gathered steam, and the industry I knew, international distribution and logistics went into a global tail spin, I set out to find out “What the Hell Just Happened?” That led me to explore the U.S. finance and banking system and the Federal Reserve, and earned an introduction to Ellen Brown, who was writing about something called “public banking.”
In 2011, I joined Ellen and a small band of informed reformers to launch the Public Banking Institute and in 2012 I formed the Pennsylvania Project, part of the nationwide campaign to create a network of public banks in the U.S. at the municipal and state level, earning good marks for my advocacy in the growing public banking campaign.
In 2007 I began writing a series of essays to friends, which led to regular op-ed columns. Some have made it to the Wall Street Journal, other daily newspapers around the nation and such online venues as Op-ed News and TruthDig. But most are published in the award winning Bucks County Courier Times, the leading daily newspaper in the Philadelphia suburbs, published where I grew up, in Levittown.
So I’ve come full circle, and now publish this web site, the KraussCommentary.com
I hope you find the reading useful.